The First Amendment was written precisely because of people like Harry Windsor

In January 2020, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, announced that he and his wife the Duchess would be stepping back from their roles as senior members of the royal family, and would be spending more time in the United States. Among other things, this would allow them more privacy.

Few of us, if we were seeking greater privacy, would agree to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on prime time network television, trading tittle tattle about family affairs (and he’s at it again). But then few of us are royals.

Being a royal is a full time job. Most of us get our first full time jobs when we become adults, but royals become royals the moment they are born. For many of them, their sole skill in life is being royal: they aren’t much good at anything else. The modern age has changed this somewhat. Royals are now expected to have a ‘normal’ job for a while and Harry gave good service in his grandmother’s armed forces as a helicopter pilot. There is a marketable skill for a family man looking for a quiet life. Helicopter pilots can earn up to $150,000 a year.

But for all his talk about wanting a private life, it seems that Prince Harry does not want to give up being a royal. Helicopter pilots don’t get invited onto Dax Shepherd’s podcast to pontificate on the First Amendment. Royals do, because people make up jobs for them, like being appointed to the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder (which is to carry out a six-month study on the state of misinformation and disinformation in the United States). There are plenty of other equally unqualified ex-servicemen they could have hired, but this is the privilege of being a royal.

Again, it is unclear how emerging into this world from a particular womb gives you any specific qualification for this role. No matter, when Harry met Dax (director of the terrible CHiPs movie) he said:

“I’ve got so much I want to say about the First Amendment as I sort of understand it, but it is bonkers. I don’t want to start going down the First Amendment route because that’s a huge subject and one which I don’t understand because I’ve only been here a short time…But, you can find a loophole in anything. You can capitalize or exploit what’s not said rather than uphold what is said.”

The First Amendment is much misunderstood so it is worth quoting it in full:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This seems like a pretty good thing, right? It stops Congress deciding what people can and cannot say. There are those, however, who would like Congress to have this power. People might say things we disagree with, after all.

To see how dangerous this argument is, consider the origins of COVID-19. Is it the result of a lab accident in Wuhan?

Donald G. McNeil Jr., the prize-winning former science reporter for the New York Times, wrote recently that, for about a year, this theory lived on:

…the far right where it had started — championed by the folks who brought us Pizzagate, the Plandemic, Kung Flu, Q-Anon, Stop the Steal, and the January 6 Capitol invasion. It was tarred by the fact that everyone backing it seemed to hate not just Democrats and the Chinese Communist Party, but even the Chinese themselves. It spawned racist rumors like “Chinese labs sell their dead experimental animals in food markets.”

Surely the ‘Lab-Leak Theory’ is exactly the sort of “misinformation and disinformation” that the “bonkers” First Amendment ludicrously protects? If Congress had the power to decide what people can and cannot say, the ‘Lab-Leak Theory’ would have been deep sixed long ago.

But what ‘the science’ says has changed, as it should when new information emerges. Now, as Jim Geraghty notes for National Review in an article titled ‘The Taboo on the COVID Lab-Leak Theory Lifts‘:

I’m glad that 18 scientists have written to Science magazine that, “We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data.”

I’m glad that the Washington Post editorial board declared yesterday, “If the laboratory leak theory is wrong, China could easily clarify the situation by being more open and transparent. Instead, it acts as if there is something to hide.”

I’m even sort of glad that Matt Yglesias saluted New York magazine, declaring that publication “brought the lab leak hypothesis into the mainstream,” because he acknowledges “the insta-consensus on Twitter and among media fact-check columnists never reflected a real consensus among practicing scientists who seem to me to mostly just really not know.”

I have no idea whatsoever whether COVID-19 did originate in a Wuhan lab or not. What I do know is that the possibility that it did ought to be open for discussion. The First Amendment protects that. As New York Times correspondent Nellie Bowles rightly notes:

Those, like Prince Harry, who think that the First Amendment is “bonkers” believe that they can identify what is right and what is wrong and ban the latter accordingly. The authors of the First Amendment were much wiser. They realized that information does not fall like manna from heaven into the laps of legislators, it has to be discovered, and that information which is correct might not, when it is new, appear so to those with legislative power. Prince Harry and his kind believe in a monopoly of ideas: the Founding Fathers believed in the competition of ideas. The Founders were the liberals here, and why, after all, should you expect liberal governance from a guy who owes his position in life entirely to his family background?

It isn’t yet clear whether Britain’s loss has been any great gain for the United States. This country was founded by people who booted one of Prince Harry’s ancestors out because they were fed up of him telling them what to do. The royal apple seems not to have fallen far from the royal tree.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment and republican, theoretically, in British terms.